Further thoughts and teaching on Leviticus chapters 8-10 (Aaron’s Consecration)
We now arrive at what I would have preferred to have dealt with first - an explanation of the Levitical passage from which North has drawn his teaching. Unfortunately, it was necessary that we deal with his text first to keep the order of the web pages into some coherent and systematic order - but this is where North should have begun before he went on to try and apply the Biblical prohibition of wine that was laid upon the High Priest and his sons.
North decides to ignore chapters 8 and 9 - I can’t blame him, they’re not particularly easy passages to deal with! But why he should choose to ignore the context of the few verses of Scripture that he decides to teach on is worrying.
One question which the reader may immediately ponder over is why I’ve chosen to include chapter 10 (which begins with the death of Nadab and Abihu) in the same notes as chapters 8 and 9 (which speak of Aaron’s consecration). As you will see as you read these notes (under 10:12-20), our division of the last passage into a separate chapter has been responsible for making it appear as if we’re looking at ‘another time’ but, as I’ll show, the indications are that the events took place on the same eighth day of consecration that chapter 9 deals with.
We aren’t told the month in which this event took place but it would have been fairly soon (if not immediately) after the setting up of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial laws had been received. The occasion is the ordination of Aaron and his sons to the priesthood which was to take place over a period of seven days (Ex 29:35-36) even though the following chapter in Leviticus makes it sound as if it was to continue for an extra day (Lev 9:1) - this eighth day wasn’t part of the ordination process.
These first few verses (without trying to demean them in any way) are similar to the ingredients of a recipe while the following verses detail the methodology.
We read that Moses is to take the chosen family (Aaron and his sons) with the anointing oil, one bull, two rams and unleavened bread - and to make sure that the congregation of Israel is assembled to watch the ordination that was about to take place. Aaron was to be the people’s representative before God, therefore it was necessary that they were witnesses to his ordination.
Before Moses begins, he makes sure that the people understand that this ceremony is not something that he’s dreamed up - this procedure is what has come directly from God and in this way their intermediary is to be enrolled into service on their behalf (8:5).
The first ceremony is that Moses takes Aaron and his sons and washed them in water (8:6) - it’s Moses who performs this task, not Aaron. Though Aaron will wash himself when the Tabernacle is fully functioning (Ex 30:17-21) - and then simply his hands and feet - Moses here acts as the priest who’s ordaining a replacement to take over from him.
Of course, Moses wasn’t the High Priest and is never referred to as such, but there’s no doubt that he frequently functioned in that role when, for instance, he applied the blood of the sacrifice (Ex 24:6-8) and acted as an intermediary on behalf of the people before God (Ex 32:7-14).
The ceremonies of the Day of Atonement required him to fully immerse his body in water (Lev 16:4) and it may be true that this is what took place - but we cannot be certain as the text simply doesn’t say.
Being now ceremonially clean, Moses clothes Aaron with the High Priest’s holy garments - just as Aaron would do for himself on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:4).
Aaron is, therefore, ‘clean’ having had any ceremonial defilement washed from him but also ready to take upon the role of the nation’s intermediary by the choice and will of God.
Next comes the application of the anointing oil - a special oil made from a mixture of myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane, cassia and olive oil in exact proportions (Ex 30:22-25) which was never to be taken for normal ‘everyday’ use (Ex 30:31-33).
This sprinkling of the oil upon Aaron, the Tabernacle and all that was found within it set the items apart for God’s special purpose - this had already been commanded in Ex 30:26-30 where it’s noted that the impartation of the oil had the effect of ‘making holy’ everything that would come in to contact with what had been anointed. These items, then, though they could be defiled, had the effect of setting apart for the Lord’s purpose and use everything that came into physical contact with them (though it doesn’t say that the same applied to Aaron!).
Being anointed with a common oil gave them all (Aaron and the structure) a common purpose and caused them all to be considered to be God’s ‘special’ possession amongst the Israelites.
In a previous section I showed (with great difficulty!) that oil can be a symbol of the Holy Spirit - although that could be the case here, I don’t believe that this is necessarily the implication behind its usage. Here the idea is separation away from common use and separation to the Lord’s use.
After this, the sons of Aaron (which included Nadab and Abihu - Lev 10:1-3) are brought forward and clothed with the robes that had been specifically made for their ‘ministry’ (Ex 28:40-43). It appears that they were also anointed at that time with the anointing oil even though Leviticus chapter 8 is silent on this fact (Ex 40:14-15 - the anointing oil gained them access to a perpetual priesthood through their genealogical line).
The bull of the sin offering is first offered by Moses not Aaron (8:14-17) - Moses is functioning as the High Priest until the inauguration and Aaron identifies himself with the offering along with his sons by laying his hands upon the bull’s head. The offering isn’t offered in accordance with the Levitical instructions contained in 4:1-5:13 and 6:24-30 but appears to have been a special type of sin offering used just here. This offering wasn’t offered to remove Aaron’s sin but to purify the altar of burnt offering (presumably from any ceremonial uncleanness that had been imparted to it by the congregation of Israel - the Scripture doesn’t say exactly from what it’s being purified but it’s important that the place that will burn the ‘pure’ offerings of Israel be pure itself) though Ex 29:36 may imply that it had a dual purpose - the Scripture appears to read that a bull needed to be offered both to cleanse Aaron and the altar.
Next comes the ram of the burnt offering (8:18-21) - again, not in accordance with the Levitical instructions - followed by the second ram (8:22-29) which is designated as being the ‘ram of ordination’ though any direct similarity in title with Leviticus chapters 1-7 doesn’t exist. However, the ‘ram of ordination’ does bear striking similarities to the peace offering when the application of the offering and the portion for the officiating priest are compared (7:11-18,28-36).
If we’re to take this as a type of peace offering, then the order is in keeping with the logical sequence of the offerings that we looked at on an earlier web page (sin/burnt/peace) but the reason for the peace offering there discussed would be lacking in this situation.
The application of the blood, though, is a differentiating characteristic and these details aren’t only found here but also in the passage which details the cleansing of the leper (Lev 14:14 - apart from the parallel passage in Ex 29:19-20). Moses now takes some of the ram’s blood and puts it on the tip of Aaron’s right ear, the thumb of his right hand and the bigtoe of his right foot.
Harrison (page 100) sees a reference to ‘hearing God’s voice’ (the ear), doing what God wants to be done (the hand) and walking in the ways of God (the foot), going on to parallel it with the believer’s obligation to do the same under the New Covenant.
This may - or may not - be correct, but it certainly appears reasonable as it would give a similar meaning in the parallel application of blood to the leper. Wenham notes (page 143) that the right side is singled out because
‘...the righthand side was considered the more important and favoured side...’
finding justification for his assertion that
‘It is an example of a part standing for the whole...’
Wenham does assert that the ordination offering was for cleansing but, as there’s no reference to cleansing in the Scriptures and, as previously noted, the offering may be taken to be a peace offering which wasn’t offered to achieve atonement, it seems unlikely that this was intended to be achieved by its offering.
As the altar and Aaron have both oil and blood applied to them, the symbolism is that of associating the minister to his ministry and there doesn’t appear any need to insist upon cleansing in the second ram.
Finally, some of the oil and blood which remained on the altar is sprinkled upon both Aaron and his sons (8:30), thus associating his sons with the ministry of their father and securing them the continuance of their calling for subsequent generations, and associating the entire priesthood with the ministry of the altar.
Aaron is now told to eat the priest’s portion of the ram of ordination even though it was Moses who’d sacrificed it and mediated with its blood.
Aaron and his sons were then obliged to remain at the door of the Tabernacle for a full seven days (including this one) so that the ‘days of ordination’ might be completed for them. Ex 29:35-37 tells us that a similar procedure had to be gone through each day though all we’re told is that a sin offering had to be offered for both Aaron and the altar of burnt offering - the latter had to be cleansed over a seven day period.
The offerings required have continued throughout the period specified and we arrive at the eighth day. The events of this eighth day continue through to the end of chapter 10 (see on 10:12-20 for more details).
Again, in the first five verses we get the ‘ingredients’. For Aaron - a bull and a ram, for Israel - a male goat, calf, lamb, ox, ram and the ingredients for a cereal offering.
This is the first day of ministry for the new High Priest - the first seven days had been for his ordination and the cleansing of the altar of burnt offering (Ex 29:35-37) but now, on this the eighth day, Aaron offers sacrifice both for himself and on behalf of the people. Moses may give the orders concerning what is to be done (Lev 9:1-2, 6-7), but it’s Aaron who performs all the acts of mediator.
The elders are called to Moses as representatives of the nation of Israel, presumably because they’ll be responsible for obtaining/providing the offerings of the nation (9:3-4) which are here offered for the first time since the procedure of ordination had been initiated.
Moses reminds the people present that this isn’t something that he dreamed up himself but it’s what their God has commanded to be done (9:6), promising them that God will appear to them.
There then follows the offering of the relevant sacrifices.
Aaron offers both his own sin offering (9:8-11) and burnt offering (9:12-14) - even though Aaron had submitted himself to a seven day period of cleansing, there’s still the need for him to atone for his own sin. Some details are missing in the descriptions here but they may be short summaries – what’s more significant is that they don’t appear to correspond exactly with the procedure as laid out in Leviticus chapters 1-7 (for instance, the burnt offering has its blood thrown on the altar by Aaron but in Lev 1:5 it should be done by Aaron’s sons). Perhaps our interpretation of Leviticus chapters 1-7 or Leviticus chapter 9 is faulty!!
Once Aaron has made himself ceremonially clean, he presents the offerings for Israel - the sin offering (9:15), burnt offering (9:16) and cereal offering (9:17), followed by the two peace offerings of the ox and the ram (9:18-21).
It all goes pretty much ‘according to plan’ and in the order that we would expect the offerings to be offered in - the sin and burnt offering of the High Priest removes both sin and sin’s effects and cleanses the mediator so that he can be ceremonially clean to offer the nation’s sacrifices. Again, the sin and burnt offerings remove the problem of sin and its effects, while the cereal and peace offerings represent, respectively, the giving of a gift to God and a token of thanksgiving (presumed because it can’t be a vow [no commitment has been made by the nation] and it can’t be of their own freewill [they’re commanded to offer it]).
Aaron blesses the people (with the blessing of Num 6:22-27?) and both he and Moses go in to the Lord’s presence - perhaps as the old intermediary and the new. This is purely speculation, but did God ‘remove’ part of the anointing from Moses and put it upon Aaron (as He did at a later date for the seventy elders chosen to assist Moses in ruling and judging the nation - Num 11:24-25)?
Coming out from the Lord’s presence, the glory of God appeared to the Israelites. This wasn’t unusual - in Ex 40:34, God’s glory had already been seen to take up His residence within the Tabernacle, but now He confirms His satisfaction in the system of ministries (Aaron and his sons) and the ministry (sacrificial system) by consuming the contents of the sacrifices that had been placed on the altar of burnt offering.
The fire symbolised the presence of God - a continual reminder to the Israelites when they offered their sacrifices in the future that it was being offered to God directly.
The reason for the contents of chapter 10 is the incident that we read of in the first two verses (the possibility is that this incident took place directly after the preceding three verses but definitely on the same day - for details concerning this, see on 10:12-20 below). We read that
‘…Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer, and put fire in it, and laid incense on it, and offered unholy fire before YHWH, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came forth from the presence of YHWH and devoured them, and they died before YHWH’
The Scriptures do not plainly inform us as to the two men’s sin and why what they did was considered to be such an act of rebellion that they paid for it with their lives. But, having said that, there are indications.
There doesn’t seem to have been anything wrong with the censers which are commanded to be made in Ex 25:38, 27:3, 37:23, 38:3. Neither does the record of the incident inform us that the incense was ‘unholy’ even though this phrase does appear in the context of the altar of incense in Ex 30:9.
But the indication from the phrase ‘unholy fire’ is that, though both the censer and the incense may have been acceptable to God, the fire upon which it was burning was not that which would have been burning on the altar of burnt offering (if this was the intended fire to be used - I can find no reference to the source of the fire that should have been used in the censers in the Mosaic Law). This fire that Nadab and Abihu had used in their censers was not what had been set apart for the Lord’s use and would have been something different to the fire that had come from the presence of God to consume the previous burnt offerings of that day (Lev 9:24).
Instead of paying attention to the necessity of using this fire, the two priests had used that which was certainly not commanded (10:1).
The warning, here, to that and each subsequent generation of both Israelites and priests was that God must be approached properly, in the way that He chooses and not their own way (Prov 16:25). Man cannot approach on his own terms and gain access into God’s presence on the basis of what he would want to do, but approach must always be how God chooses and with the instruments that God commands.
Under the New Covenant, the way of approach is solely through the work and provision of Christ on the cross and there’s no other way to draw near to God except by the once-for-all sacrifice - but the believer is encouraged to draw near (Heb 10:19-22).
It’s important to realise that, until this incident, the way into the very presence of God - though veiled - had been the right of both the High Priest and his sons and that it was only after this incident that we find access into the presence of God restricted to just once annually on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:2ff).
There then follows some practical instructions to Aaron and his family.
Firstly, Moses commands relatives of Aaron to remove the dead bodies of Nadab and Abihu from the tent of meeting. We discover the reason for this later on in Lev 21:11 and by comparing Num 5:1-3 which shows us that contact with a dead body rendered the person as ceremonially unclean in the sight of God.
If Moses had allowed Aaron to retrieve his sons’ bodies then he would have been rendered unclean and therefore unable to minister before God on behalf of the people (we should note that it was permissible for the sons of the current High Priest to become unclean for the sake of his family, but not so for the High Priest - Lev 21:1-3 - but in the context of this being the eighth day after the beginning of their ordination and therefore the first day of their actual service [see on 8:1-4], they could not become ceremonially unclean for fear of being rejected).
Aaron is told directly (10:6-7) not to show signs of his grief outwardly as it was the custom to do in those times by rending the garments (Gen 37:34, II Sam 3:31) and by letting the hair on their heads hang loose (Lev 13:45 - perhaps it may be a fair assumption to say that the average Jewish male used to keep his hair fairly long and, in some way, tied up?). Wenham notes (page 291) that
‘[The High Priest’s] hair had been anointed and his clothes specially designed for him. If he disturbed them, it could serve to nullify his consecration’
Aaron had to remain at his ‘post’ (10:7) and ignore the grief that he must now have felt - if Aaron had taken a day off for compassionate leave then his mediation on behalf of the people would have come to an end for that period, no one could have stood in the gap for Israel and there would be the very real danger that the relationship of God with His people would have been seriously hindered.
So Aaron can neither bury his dead nor mourn. Neither can he leave his post and come to terms with his grief. Though the High Priesthood carried with it great importance and honour, it nevertheless carried with it responsibility that must, at times, have been heart-breaking.
As Wenham notes (page 158)
‘The commands given to Aaron...are strange. Why should a ban on drinking alcohol be introduced here, and then be coupled with instructions about teaching the Israelites?’
Certainly, God’s instructions concerning the need for Aaron and his sons to distinguish between the ‘holy and common’ (and so on) are in keeping with the failure on the part of Nadab and Abihu to have done this, but the aspect of teaching does seem out of place and especially the ban on alcoholic consumption in the narrative as there appears to be no real context.
I may be wrong here, but I feel that the reason why the subject of alcohol is now introduced is because this was the very problem that had caused the two dead sons to offer unholy fire. Having minds that had been clouded in perception, they’d used what wasn’t to be used in the service of God.
This incident doesn’t, of course, legislate against the consumption of alcohol (the Bible is very plain in its teaching elsewhere that wine and other drinks are not in themselves sinful - only the excessive use of them - but they do fog the mind to make clear and accurate decisions - Prov 20:1, 31:4-7) but it’s instructing the priests to make sure that, when they come to appear before the Lord, they’re level headed and know what He commands to be done.
Therefore the instructions concerning the teaching of Israel makes sense. Being under the influence of alcohol would seriously impair Aaron’s teaching of the Israelites in the statutes of God - concentration is needed along with a clear-head and unhindered thought. These are important aspects in teaching - a teacher should have no self-inflicted hindrances when they come to expound the will and ways of God to His people.
Suddenly, the ‘cereal offering’ is mentioned (10:12-13 Cp 9:17), then the parts of the peace offering that were both Aaron’s and the officiating priest’s due (10:14-15 Cp 9:18), finally arriving at the detail concerning the goat of the sin offering (10:16-20 Cp 9:15).
But where do these come from? They appear suddenly on the scene as if they were present all along and part of the main thrust of the passage. Harrison comments on v.12-13 (page 118)
‘These instructions should be read in conjunction with the events described in chapter 9, since they deal with the disposition of the priestly portions of the offerings’
and Wenham notes on v.12-18 (page 159)
‘Moses checks that the priests have completed the sacrifices mentioned in ch.9’
Here is a place where the demarcation of the Scriptures into chapters lets us down! Lev 10:1 is naturally taken to refer to another day, another event in Israelite history when Nadab and Abihu had come to minister to the Lord - but the indication is that, while the consecration ceremony was still fresh in Aaron’s mind with all the honour that that had bestowed upon him, two of his sons were judged by the Lord.
Moreover, if we break with the division that occurs with the start of chapter 10 and read 9:22-10:3 as one unit, it may be that the reason for the two sons’ entry into the presence of God was the awesome issue of the fire of God’s presence from within the Holy of Holies - but this is not intended to be taken as fact, I merely offer it as a possibility for careful consideration!
In that case, we see Nadab and Abihu’s entry into the Lord’s presence as being a reaction to what has just taken place rather than as an independent action.
But it does seem correct to say that the events of Leviticus chapter 10 should be seen to have occurred on the eighth day of Aaron’s consecration (Lev 9:1). Moses is concerned that Aaron and his sons now obey the ordinances of Leviticus chapters 1-7 and complete the commands of God to prevent them from suffering a similar fate to that of the two sons - presumably, the skin of the burnt offering (9:16 - the full list of the offerings for the eighth day occurs in 9:2-4) is not mentioned in 10:12-20 because it was the consumption of the food parts of the offering that Moses was particularly concerned with.
It’s said of Moses that he ‘diligently inquired’ (10:16) as to what had happened to the flesh of the sin offering to discover whether Aaron had obeyed the Lord’s commands (Lev 6:24-30). Moses’ words (10:18) that state that the sin offering’s blood
‘...was not brought into the inner part of the sanctuary...’
relate us back to 6:30 which shows us that Moses is making the point that, because the blood wasn’t sprinkled before the veil of separation, it should have been eaten (note here that the sin offering of a ‘goat’ - 9:15 - was not the type of animal that should have been used ‘for the nation’ - 4:13-14 - but must have been a special offering that had been commanded just for that occasion. The nation’s sin offering should have had its blood sprinkled before the veil, too - 4:17 - but it wasn’t. This would point to a positive identification with the sacrifice of chapter 9).
Now Aaron is guilty before the Lord on this occasion – he’s transgressed the commandment of God by not eating his appointed portion. Aaron’s reply (10:19-20), however, satisfied Moses that the High Priest couldn’t bring himself to eat, as the day had seen him have to bear the loss of his two sons - but, more’s the point, the explanation was obviously acceptable in the sight of God who didn’t judge Aaron for his actions as he’d judged his two sons Nadab and Abihu.
What does that tell us about the Law?
That God, as on other occasions when the Law was broken, looks on the intentions of the heart and does not, like an automaton, judge any literal transgression.
From that day onwards, God commanded Aaron, in mercy, not to come into the Holy of Holies at any or all times (Lev 16:1-2). Only once a year on the Day of Atonement, when he was to follow a precise procedure for the atonement of the people’s sins, was he to come within the veil and into the presence of God - in case he should die.
While the Tabernacle remained, access into God's presence was restricted to just once a year and, even then, only the High Priest was allowed to enter - not for fellowship with the Lord but to secure atonement on behalf of the people.
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